originally published May 13, 2012 on Open Salon, the second of a pair of posts, the first of which is called Dirty Hands. This one is a fictional version of the dilemma outlined in the previous post. As I said in the introduction to that one, the reaction surprised me because a lot of readers didn't see the dilemma in the post. Don't ask me how they missed it; I don't know. 

I found my last post somewhat misunderstood by a lot of my readers, so I’m going to try to approach part of it from a different direction. As you’re probably aware, I don’t write much fiction; in fact, I don’t think I’ve ever written non-satirical fiction here. So, I’ll give this a shot. I don’t expect to continue in this genre, just to use it this particular time to clarify my point.

The New Guy hadn’t been in Congress long. He’d met some of his new colleagues but he was still learning the ropes. 

It was late in the evening and his staff had gone home but he was still at his desk catching up on mail. His wife was out of town so he felt OK about staying late; aside from which he liked the quiet.

He was startled by a knock at the door. Looking up, he saw a short, compact man, balding, in his sixties, a man he’d met previously for all of a few seconds. The man had just entered his twelfth term representing his northeast urban district. He was one of the most powerful men on the Hill. 

“Hi, mind if I come in?” His accent was palpable, street origins obvious, perhaps even a little exaggerated. It made him a little intimidating, which he used to his advantage.

“Come on in. How can I help you?”

“Help me? Cute. I was about to ask you the same question. Everything OK so far?”

“Yes, Sir. So far, so good.”

“Good. I’m not going to beat around the bush. I’m here to offer you a gift, sort of a housewarming present.”

The New Guy looked a little startled. 

“No, not that kind of present. I understand you have significant interest in a gay rights bill that is currently in my committee.”

He’d obviously done his homework. The New Guy had a lot of gay constituents and also had a gay son. This was a high priority for him.

“Yes Sir, I think the current state of affairs is not just, and…”

“Yeah yeah yeah, save the speeches for the floor, Kid. Here’s the deal: I can get that bill out of committee and, if I do, it’s pretty much guaranteed to pass.”

“Thank you. And……..”  He paused and waited.

The older man smiled. “Good. You’re awake. And I want a vote in exchange.”

The New Guy looked puzzled. “And by ‘gift,’ you mean….”

“I mean this one’s a no-brainer. Easy. I’m starting you off with a really slow pitch.”

“As in something I’d vote for anyway?”

“I said slow pitch, not T-ball. I wouldn’t insult you like that.”

“Thank you.” Said with just a touch of sarcasm.

“You’re welcome.” Sarcasm ignored. “There’s a company in my district that’s very important to me that needs an environmental exception. The vote comes up next week.”

The New Guy looked nonplussed. “I came here with a lot of environmentalist support. I could get killed at home for a vote like that.”

“Not on this one. I’ve already got the votes to pass this. You couldn’t stop it if you tried.”

The New Guy looked skeptical. "You're sure?"

The older man rolled his eyes. "I gotta lotta friends."

“So why do you need my vote?”

“I don’t need your vote, I want your vote. I want the gesture.”

“Why is the gesture so important to you?”

The older man shrugged. “Because it tells me who I’m dealing with.”

The New Guy looked puzzled, so the older man continued:

“I know you got a heart. That’s the only reason you could possibly start your career with a gay rights bill. Now I want to see if you’ve got horse sense.”

“Given my constituency and my newness, this carries risks.”

The older man sighed. “You’ll soon learn that you get very few opportunities like this one. I’m handing you a major bill on a silver platter in exchange for a gesture, a vote that won’t do anything. Your vote won’t kill so much as a weed because this would pass without you.”

“How long have I got?”

“Twenty-four hours. Then my offer expires.”

“I have to make sure I could survive your gift.”

The older man smiled, got up and reached for the New Guy’s hand.
“So get on the phone.”

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